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There had been many periods in Adam's life that he could count as truly terrible. The childhood beatings at the hands of his father, the Antibes incident, prison, the booze, giving up the booze, loneliness, seeing Kieran go off alone to fight Angel, Lonts being abducted by Vanod ... but even all this taken together would be nothing compared to the weeks that followed, when the nightmares seemed to pile up to a sadistic degree.
He remembered little of the journey back to the City. Julian had got the doctor in Stokva to dope him with tranquillisers, so much so that Adam had to be put onto the air-buggy like a set of luggage. For some time he tried to speak properly, but words came out garbled and round the wrong way. Not only was his beloved boy seemingly entering that final period of decline that the doctors had long since predicted, but Kieran and Joby had vanished, without a word of explanation, to fight one of the most formidable monsters ever conceived in mythology.
They had landed on the scrubland beyond Joby's rose-garden, but Adam barely noticed the barrage of questions hurled at him by the waiting press. Ransey had proved his salt by backing them off, but they were then treated to the sight of Lonts being carried unconscious by Hillyard from the air-buggy.
For several days the critical condition of Baby Lonts kept the media busy, and helped distract them from the President's continued disappearance. At the hospital Adam sat in a cloudy daze whilst the Consultant gave him the facts. Lonts had a brain tumour, a growth between his brain and his skull that shouldn't be there.
"It's a benign tumour", said Julian insistently, once he and Adam were alone in a private waiting-room "Emphasis on the word 'benign'. Even in this barbaric day and age it is still a fairly routine operation, almost like having one's wisdom teeth out".
"I knew a man once who had a brain tumour", said Adam, as though talking in a dream "He went blind, aged almost overnight. He died".
"Yes well Lonts isn't going to die", said Julian "Perhaps if you'd paid attention to what the Consultant was saying just now, instead of wafting into Bette Davis mode, you'd know there was no cause for alarm. It's a long operation, but one with a very high success rate. He'll have a period of convalescence, but I shouldn't think that'll bother you, as it'll give you a chance to spoil him even more".
"But the brain is such a delicate instrument", Adam protested.
"It certainly is in Lonts's case".
"No I won't apologise", said Julian "Believe it or not I'm as concerned about the boy as you are. But I happen to think a little gallows humour does us all good in situations like this. Try thinking with your head for once and not your heart. Lonts is ill but he will pull through. The tumour is benign, and we have caught it very early on. Think if this had come on whilst we were still in the Uncharted Area".
"Exactly. It's count your blessings time".
"I'm so angry at the others too", Adam cried "How could they do this to me now?"
"Kieran and Joby went off without knowing about Lonts", said Julian "They sloped off quietly because they were thinking of you. I think it's a good thing they don't know about the boy, it means they can concentrate on despatching the Gorgon".
"Julian, if anything happens to them I ..."
"You won't be able to do a thing", said Julian, squeezing his friend's hand "Not easy being mother is it?"
"Impossible at times. The pain is so great. You'll stay with me Jules won't you? Even when Lonts has pulled through I shall still need you".
"I'm glad you're giving him a chance of survival at last!"
"And if Pats and Joby ..."
"One thing at a time Adam", said Julian "Let's get Lonts out of the woods first, and then we'll start saying prayers for the others. Meanwhile I'll organise some blankets. I take it you want to stay in here until Lonts gets the all-clear?"
"Yes, and I don't want to talk to anyone from the Ministry", said Adam "They keep wanting to ask me about Patsy, and everytime they do I just want to cry or punch a hole in the wall".
"It'd be more of a service to mankind if you'd punch a hole in one of them", said Julian.
It was around two a.m and the hospital had acquired a hushed night-time aura, as though it was holding its breath until morning. Adam slept out of sheer exhaustion. Julian found that even that was beyond him. Random noises always take on an extra significance at night, and in a hospital this was doubly so. Nurses walked past the door in soft shoes, low murmurs as night-time doses of medication were discussed and distributed. At one point Julian heard a man in a nearby room weeping loudly and, astonishingly, calling for his mother. He was a time-crosser, now in the last stages of cancer. He died within a few hours, and Julian never did find out which era the unfortunate man had stumbled away from. But he knew that those pitiful wailings for a mother beyond his reach by the cruel vagaries of time would haunt him forever.
"I'll go and see if I can get us something to eat", he said, when Adam woke up "Even at this hour, it shouldn't be too much of a problem".
"Don't be long Jules".
"I won't be", Julian kissed him and left the room.
"You love your boy very much don't you?"
Adam was shocked into full alertness. The voice was female. He sat up and peered through the gloom. A figure was sitting in the corner. Suddenly she stood up and walked towards him. She was extraordinarily beautiful, clad in only a pink silk slip.
"Are you real?" he asked, hoarsely.
"I was", she said "Not anymore. Not really".
"What do you want from me?"
"Nothing. You have nothing left to give", she sat down next to him on the battered plastic sofa "You are drained. It's easy to forget the emotions mortals go through. The pain of living a life that must end. When you go beyond that, one gets a very cavalier attitude towards it all. Since my return I have killed indiscriminately, mainly to get men out of my way. But your suffering has reminded me ... I had a son too you see. I loved him very much, more than anything else in my life".
"What happened to him?"
"After they killed me he died of a broken heart. We were very close. By destroying me they destroyed him too. I hate them even more for what they did to him than what they did to me".
"Who did it?"
"You know who", she said, her pink lips still showed traces of the gentleness that had once been her fame.
"The Ghoomers", Adam whispered "I can understand that you may want revenge".
"I did when I was first brought back, but now I don't see the point", she said "They have so debauched and debased themselves that they enacted my revenge for me. I have gone back there and seen the way they live. My anger is now gone".
"Why did you appear to me now?"
"Because you are in deep emotional pain", she said "I want to reassure you that your boy will live. He will live. I have hated men for so long, but I can't hate you. My boy helped me through so many dark times, he kept me sane when they all tried to tell me I was mad. I appeared to you here now to see if I could help in any way. I want you to keep what I lost".
"What is your name?"
"That is not important", she said "I am not real anymore. I roam aimlessly all over the countryside, searching for those despicable swine who destroyed me. Then I found them, and I discovered that revenge was futile. I don't wish to kill anymore".
"Can't you find your boy now?" said Adam "Perhaps he's somewhere out there".
"I will move on to find him, but your love touched me. Some people, my own kind among them, try to make out that to love someone too much is wrong. They used to accuse me of using my boy as an emotional crutch".
"Doubtless people think that of me sometimes".
"I thought as much. Don't listen to them. As long as the recipient is secure in your love that is all that matters. I believed there was no such thing as too much love, how can there be? Now I will go before your friend returns".
"Please. A moment", Adam grabbed her hand. She was icy-cold "It's not just Lonts. Two men I love are in very grave danger. If there is anything you can do to safeguard them, anything at all ..."
"The Gorgon?" the woman smiled "She is no threat to me. I am not a mortal".
"Then please help. Please. I know I can't offer you anything in return, but you are my only hope".
"You listened to me", she said, withdrawing her hand gently "It was more than they ever did. Your boys will come home".
Julian carried a paper-bag of day-old sandwiches back to the room. On the way he met the Consultant, and Julian offered to take the news to Adam himself.
"Lonts is going to be alright", he said "The operation was a success. The tumour has been removed".
"I must see him", said Adam.
"Not now, it's the middle of the bloody night, let the poor kid get some rest!" Julian exclaimed "He's just been through a major operation, he could do without you charging in there, throwing yourself all over him".
"Is he really going to be alright Jules?"
"Of course he is. Don't be absurd".
"B-But what if the operation's altered him in some way? Changed his personality perhaps?"
"We couldn't be that lucky", said Julian "Adam for crying out loud, he's had a tumour removed, not a complete brain transplant! Just be thankful he's alive".
"I am", said Adam, as tears poured down his cheeks "I am".
As soon as the breakfast round was over Adam and Julian went down to the private room in which Lonts was staying. The corridors all around this section of the hospital were filled with bouquets of flowers from well-wishers. Baby Lonts's immediate recovery was being prayed for everywhere it seemed. The smell from them was overpowering.
"It's like Kew Gardens in here", said Julian "Joby would think he'd died and gone to Heaven".
"Oh don't say that Jules please", said Adam "I no sooner get over one huge worry than there's another one lurking overhead. I can't bear not knowing what's happened to them".
They reached Lonts's door and Adam peered through the glass panel. Lonts was lying on the bed, wearing his nappy and crucifix. The back of his head had been shaved for the operation but his new tonsure was concealed at the moment by his pillow.
"Oh Jules, look at him", Adam gasped "Isn't he beautiful?"
"He looks a bit disgruntled to me", said Julian "Doubtless got some grievance he's in a hurry to impart. Sure sign he'll live if that's true".
Adam left Julian outside the door and went into the room. He approached the bed in an awe-struck fashion, like a novice priest approaching the temple of some terrifyingly vengeful god. This was quite appropriate really as Lonts immediately began to behave like one.
"There you are, Adam", he said, imperiously "The nurses told me you were in the building, and I've been lying here for ages waiting for you to turn up. I kept thinking perhaps it was like the old days when you left me in hospital and went off to live on a desert island".
"Oh Lo-Lo, how are you baby?" Adam sat down on the edge of the bed and grasped Lonts's hands.
"Awful", said Lonts "They cut off some of my hair, and these nappies they give me scratch".
"Hospital issue I'm afraid", said Adam "Probably for old men whose skin is so coarsened they don't feel them. Never mind, you'll be coming home soon. And as for your hair, knowing the rate at which yours grows it'll soon be back in place".
"Am I really going to be alright now Adam?"
"You are going to be absolutely splendid", said Adam.
Lonts sat up and leaned towards him. Adam wrapped him in a huge hug and kissed him hungrily. He also rubbed Lonts's nipples, in a way that he knew the boy liked. It was one of those remarkable moments when Lonts became an adult completely. For a while at least.
"Adam", said Lonts quietly, when they came up for air "Is it true what I've heard? That Kieran and Joby aren't home yet?"
"No, they're not back yet", said Adam "We had to rush on ahead with you, you see".
"Wasn't there room for them in the air-buggy then?"
"It's not that ... they've gone off to destroy the Gorgon".
"Adam!" Lonts's eyes widened with terror.
"Now you mustn't worry. Patsy wouldn't want you to get all worked up, not when you should be completely resting".
"But she's so dangerous", said Lonts "Have you been having to worry about that as well as me?"
"Nothing I can't cope with", said Adam "And Julian's been tremendous, I couldn't have got through it without him. First things first, we'll get you home and into your own bed".
"And then you'll send a search-party after them?"
"That's not a bad idea Lonts".
Adam went back to the Ministry to get things ready for Lonts's homecoming, and to be greeted with the unwelcome news that there was still no word concerning Joby and Kieran. When Lonts was given permission to leave by the doctors, Adam returned to the hospital with Hillyard in tow to act as "invalid-carrier" as they dubbed it. Adam was dismayed to find that an enormous crowd was now ringing the building like a human scarf. News of Baby Lonts's discharge from hospital was as exciting to the public as the cliffhanger in a soap opera. No one wanted to miss his triumphant exit. Adam was appalled, and knew that Lonts would not be able to cope with such intense scrutiny in his current condition.
"I've ordered the carriage to be brought round to one of the rear doors", said Hillyard, coming back into the private room where Adam was dressing Lonts "I just hope we can get him out before they realise what we're up to".
"Do you know I stupidly thought it was only women who carried on like this", said Adam, buttoning Lonts's shirt "For some illogical reason I thought men were too emotionally reserved for such hysteria. I couldn't be more wrong".
"Half of 'em have got nothing else to think about", said Hillyard "They all like to think of Lonts as their own".
"Well he's not", Adam placed a large broad-brimmed hat on Lonts's head "There you are baby. No one can spot your bald patch with that on".
"What if the crowd knocks it off?" Lonts wailed.
"They won't get a chance", said Hillyard "I'll get you into the carriage before they get anywhere near you".
This was easier said than done. Although the carriage had been got as close to the rear doors as was humanly possible, a sizeable body of men had still slipped through and were waiting to ogle Lonts with great eagerness. Adam was dismayed to see The Watcher at the forefront, and knew his capacity for whipping up "over-enthusiasm" of old.
"There he is!" The Watcher cried "Oh I can't believe it. Oh he's there".
Adam was momentarily gratified to hear one man growl "oh shut up" at The Watcher, but the crowd was still frighteningly emotional. Adam dived into the carriage first, to be ready to receive Lonts like a rugby ball. Hillyard picked Lonts up and passed him into the carriage feet-first. Lonts was too terrified to be grateful that he had managed to hang onto his hat. Hillyard clambered in behind him and slammed the carriage door. He then banged on the roof for the driver to get moving, whilst Adam comforted Lonts who was gibbering with frustration because he'd wet himself in all the unwanted excitement.
"I won't be sorry to see the back of scenes like that", said Adam "Idiots!"
His rage at the crowd was dispelled by the pleasure of getting Lonts safely home. In the meantime Finia had tied different-coloured balloons (more tokens from well-wishers) to the corners of Lonts and Adam's four-poster bed. Lonts was delighted with them, and bounced up and down on the mattress.
"Not affected his energy levels has it?" said Julian.
"I'm just grateful I've got him where I can see him", said Adam, sighing heavily "Unlike the others".
Two days after Lonts's homecoming Adam began to feel a different kind of pressure. Deprived of the mawkish drama of Baby Lonts's illness the press had now turned the spotlight on the continued absence of their President. Editorials constantly bemoaned the worry their leader gave his people by his habit of "wandering off" whenever he felt like it. Adam was furious.
"They make it sound like he's deliberately playing truant", he said to Julian, as they breakfasted together "All Patsy's doing is ensuring their safety, the ungrateful louts".
"The tenor of this article's even worse", said Julian, glancing at his own newspaper "'We are given to understand that the President is considering stepping down in favour of Gorth. This can only come as a great relief to those of us who, unlike the sentimental masses of this City, do not view the President's private life as an endless source of frivolous speculation. Gorth is, as far as we know, a middle-aged celibate with no emotional ties. This can only be welcomed after the baroque excesses of the current President and his extended family. Witness the nauseating scenes outside the hospital this week ..."
"Talk about kicking us when we're already down and worried sick", said Adam "After all Patsy's done for them too. It makes me so bloody angry".
"Don't be", said Julian "This rag is very much a lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to supporting abdication".
"They're a bunch of pompous fatheads", Adam spat.
"Exactly. How many articles have been written over the years praising Tinkerbell for re-introducing the concept of family life?" said Julian "And I bet this rag will be yearning for our baroque excesses, as they put it, after a few weeks of grey Gorth and his monastic ministry. They might have to start writing about a few real things for a change, instead of lengthy articles on the significance of the colour of your socks when you go shopping ... Yes, what is it Finia?"
"I've just been cornered by Gorth's room-steward", said Finia, walking into Julian's turret bedroom.
"Not a pleasant experience I take it?"
"He says Gorth wants to see Adam in his room - Gorth's that is - as soon as possible", said Finia.
"What the hell for?" said Adam "I can't tell him anymore about Patsy's antics than they know already".
"Hey don't shoot me, I'm only the messenger", said Finia.
"O.K Finia thanks", said Adam, smiling apologetically "I'd better go and see what he wants".
Watching Gorth perform his early morning breathing exercises Adam could only conclude that the said man was turning into an old woman. Since returning home he had already heard from some of the staff about Gorth's increasingly fussy habits, particularly his stipulation that no one but himself should be allowed to touch the teapot used for brewing his breakfast tea. Adam couldn't help feeling that Gorth and Julian, in spite of their many outward differences, would probably be great soul-mates.
"The thing is", Gorth snorted lustily, whilst standing at the open window "If Kieran doesn't turn up soon we're going to have to rethink the entire situation. It was bad enough when he disappeared before to the Bone-House and Yzel, but at least then we knew where he was. This current situation is quite frankly intolerable".
"He has disappeared, as you put it, to rid the world of an immense peril", said Adam "At great personal risk to himself and Joby".
"I can appreciate this a difficult time for you".
"No you can't. You haven't the first idea", Adam exclaimed "Ever since we returned all I've heard is endless carping about him, when all he's ever done is forsake his own safety to ensure that everyone else is immune from danger. It seems to me that you don't want an active, crusading president, but instead you want a regimental mascot, someone to be kept in mothballs and wheeled out on state occasions".
"What we want is a president who observes protocol now and again", said Gorth, angrily.
"Stuff protocol", said Adam, equally angrily "When he abdicates you can wallow in protocol for all I care, you can have protocol coming out of your ears! Ever since we crossed over into this Godforsaken time Kieran has put himself at the disposal of you all. Protocol wouldn't have helped him at the Winter Palace, protocol wouldn't have enabled him to survive when he was trapped by Gabriel at Mundaba Heights, nor would it have eased his stay at the Bone-House. He did it all whilst you lot sat here at the Ministry, wringing your hands and bleating into your gin about bloody protocol! Not only has he fought untold danger for the sake of his people, but he's also shown them that men can live together in a loving, family environment. Even though the press likes to make out that we're all completely debauched".
"Well I'm afraid some of the tales that have leaked out ..."
"Three in a bed sessions", said Gorth, colouring with embarrassment.
"Just because Joby and I have now and again managed to come up with a mature and civilised way of coping with being in a threesome..."
"The Spanking Game".
"That's just a bit of fun", Adam protested "A party game, like Postman's Knock".
"The public have trouble understanding sometimes how you all relate to one another".
"It's none of their business. None of what we do is seedy or underhand. No one is lying to anyone else. There is no deceit going on", said Adam "No one's getting hurt. For crying out loud how many multi-relationship communities can you say that about? Anyway, when you take over it won't be a problem will it? The Ministry will then be as pure as the driven snow. The Headquarters will no longer have to tolerate the sound of affectionate laughter. It will just be a load of men doggedly getting on with their work in their own chaste and humdrum way".
"It may well be", said Gorth, determindedly "That some real work will be done. That the Ministry will once again be seen as a place of serious work, and not as simply the President's family home. We are a working organisation here, as much so as any big industry. Emotional relationships very much come second".
"Then that is very sad", said Adam "Perhaps when Kieran's retired for good you might finally get some appreciation of what you've lost, namely a president who is truly compassionate. Who puts the needs of his people above the demands of paperwork and protocol. Who chucks out the rulebook in favour of what is truly appropriate at any given time. Who accepts that men need more in life than work and duty. And if you don't ever come to that appreciation then you are even more degenerate than I gave you credit for".
"Have you thought about what you'll do if the President doesn't return?"
"Oh don't worry", Adam spat "We won't stay here and be a drain on resources. We'll all retire to Wolf Castle and we won't ask the Ministry for any subsidies. We've looked after ourselves plenty of times. One thing we have proved to ourselves in fact is that we don't need the Ministry to get by. How many of you lot could truly say the same?"
"We will give the people stability", said Gorth "Something that Kieran has singularly failed to do. The people like to know we are here at the Ministry, doing our jobs, not running around the countryside, fighting demons".
"Fine", said Adam "Then I just hope that in future nothing dangerous occurs that threatens your stability. Because if it does you lot would do absolutely nothing. You'd sit here in your gilded cage, consulting the rulebook as to the correct protocol instead. No wonder the vampires had no trouble taking over, nor Gabriel for that matter".
"If Kieran doesn't return within the month", said Gorth "We may have to presume the worst and declare a state of mourning".
"We'll be gone from here before it's over", said Adam.
Hillyard and Lonts were watching television in the living-room. Or rather Hillyard was watching it. Lonts had got bored with it very quickly, and instead had taken off his socks to wriggle his toes.
"What on earth are you watching, Hillyard?" said Adam, coming into the room. The t.v screen showed two men sitting round a green baize table in a darkened room, poring over what appeared to be a set of runes.
"I don't know, some kind of fortune-telling con. The sort of thing Mixx did", said Hillyard "I wasn't really paying it much attention. I'm having trouble concentrating on anything lately. You look agitated".
"I've just seen Gorth", said Adam, fighting to stay calm "He's kindly informed me that if Patsy doesn't come home within the month they're going to declare him dead".
"Adam, no!" Lonts wailed "That's not fair. He might be alive, and neither him or Joby can get to anyone".
"The Ministry are a bunch of ungrateful gits", said Hillyard "I'm fed up with lot of 'em".
"Your relationships are going through a rocky phase", said the television presenter. The little man next to him nodded eagerly as though being told that he was coming into a fortune.
"Television gets worse", said Hillyard, distractedly "I don't know why Kieran gave them a charter sometimes".
"Can't they afford any decent lightbulbs?" said Adam, peering through the gloom on the screen.
"There was something daft on last night", said Hillyard "They've started doing a series of late night erotica, or so they call it. I started watching it, hoping to take my mind off things. All it was was this skinny eunuch with breasts getting undressed and climbing into a bath-tub, where he lay for ages soaping himself. Not what I call erotic. I think it's time me and Ransey went to look for the gruesome twosome don't you?"
"How does Ransey feel about it?"
"He's talked about nothing else for the past three days", said Hillyard "Keeps on at me to mention it to you, but I didn't want to worry you so soon after Lonts's operation. But we can't leave them there for much longer. Lonts's right, they might need assistance".
"They might be dead", said Adam, numbly "Turned to stone".
"Don't talk like that", said Hillyard.
"Why not?" said Adam "The Ministry have already thrown in the towel on them".
"Well they would wouldn't they?" said Hillyard "They haven't got our staying-power".
"They're not dead", said Lonts, stubbornly "It doesn't feel like they're dead".
The television screen was now showing the weather forecast, where a blonde be-wigged eunuch in a laughably inappropriate strapless silver ballgown and elbow-length gloves was airily promising "a bit of rain" for the City.
"Why's he dressed up like a dog's dinner just to do the weather?" said Adam.
"It was a gimmick when the t.v first started", said Hillyard "Trouble is, the joke's worn a bit thin by now. It just looks daft".
"Kieran and Joby aren't dead", said Lonts "They know all about the Gorgon. They're not silly".
"Oh yes they are", said Adam "Pats and Joby are past-masters at the art of being reckless and silly. But you are right Lo-Lo. I don't feel as though they're dead either, I've always believed I'd be able to sense it if anything happened to either of them. The little bastards are up to something instead".
"Don't worry", said Hillyard "I'll bring 'em back for you".
"As long as you and Ransey don't get gorgonised either", said Adam.
"What do you think we are? As daft as them!" said Hillyard.
A game-show erupted onto the screen. A eunuch with enormous pill-created breasts swinging out of a topless red satin costume was leading two men onto the stage as though they were the proverbial sacrificial lambs. The presenter then asked one of them to relate his most embarrassing moment ever, which the victim proceeded to do at great excruciating length.
"Am I mistaken?" said Adam "Or did that man just say he'd been jellybanged at a party?"
"Think so", said Hillyard gloomily, as the eunuch's breasts showed every danger of knocking everyone else off the screen "Seven of 'em, he says. They tore his pants down whilst his back was turned".
"Good grief", said Adam "And it's only eleven o'clock in the morning. This would never have been shown in the days of the licence fee!"
Hillyard and Ransey wasted no time in putting their plan into operation. At first light the following morning they went out to an air-buggy which they had hired, and which had been left on the scrubland for them. Adam followed them out, shivering in the chilly summer dawn.
"You shouldn't be out here Ad", said Hillyard.
"I wanted to see you off", said Adam "And tell you how grateful I am for what you're doing".
"All part of the job", said Ransey.
"No it's not", said Adam "And if you do find them don't take any nonsense from Patsy. I don't care if the Gorgon's still at large, I want them home. I want you all home".
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